Issue 3 Volume 1, June 2012


(Mt Roskill) Historical Society Newsletter
. Join us at 2pm on Sunday June 3rd (Queen’s Birthday Weekend) at the Church House of St David’s in the Fields, 202 Hillsborough Road, Hillsborough. There is plenty of parking on site, and the church house is the El Rey nightclub of the WW2 years. Our speaker will be Peter McConnell and after the recent Local Board and Heritage Week meetings, there’ll be lots to talk about. We’ll have a cuppa at the end of the meeting, and a gold coin/koha would be appreciated to help cover the cost of the room rental.

Dates for the Heritage Festival has finally been confirmed - the week of 29th September to 14 October during the school holidays. Garth, Peter, Joanne and Margaret met with Michael Wood, Fiona from the Mt Roskill library, and Anna and Hannah from The Pah to discuss events for the Puketapapa Mt Roskill area. These will hopefully include another Hillsborough cemetery walk, a guided walk around Three Kings, Garth will present an evening talk at the Pah itself on the Cyrus Haley affair, and there will be several competitions running for school aged children. The theme will revolve around Sir John Logan Campbell – it’s100 years since his death AND he was a former owner of the Pah Homestead. Do you have any information on 143 White Swan Road? We are looking at investigating the property with a look to heritage scheduling and would appreciate any information you may have.

By Garth Houltham
In Issue 2 the scene was set for this series of articles on the Pah Farm’s most sensational event. In this second article we learn about Thomas Russell, the man who was the object of Cyrus Haley’s vindictiveness. Russell purchased the Pah Farm from James Farmer in 1866. In following articles we will learn more about Cyrus Haley and his family. We will also look at the attempted murder court case and discover what became of Cyrus.

Come and support the team! The presentation regarding the case for Historic Scheduling of the old council/Metrowater building on the corner of Mt Albert and Mt Eden Roads will be presented to the Puketapapa Local Board THIS THURSDAY 6.00pm,Thursday 31st May at the Fickling Centre, 546 Mt Albert Road. Please bring along anyone who may be interested in this - it will be great to show that the community does not want to lose one of its very few significant buildings. The building has been closed while an infestation of black mould is investigated and while the future is uncertain, we believe that if it can be cleared of the black mould, it should be given Heritage Scheduling.

Russell, Thomas
Lawyer, businessman, politician, financier, land speculator



(Excerpts taken from The NZ Dictionary of Biography)

Thomas Russell was arguably the outstanding commercial figure in nineteenth century New Zealand. He is said to have been born in Cork, Ireland, in 1830, the son of Thomas Russell and his wife, Mary Roberts. In 1833 Thomas and Mary Russell with their two children, Thomas, aged three years, and Sarah, aged 22 months, sailed from Liverpool, England, as steerage passengers in the Lady East, bound for Australia. For the next seven years Thomas Russell the Elder, as he became known, was a farmer in Maitland, New South Wales. In April 1840 the family sailed to New Zealand in the Lady Leith. After some months at Kororareka (Russell), they shifted to the new capital of Auckland. Over the next few years Thomas the Elder was by turn farmer and carpenter. Mary Russell ran a small drapery store at the foot of Shortland Street to help support the growing family. Of an evening husband and wife joined to give their four sons and two daughters 'strict' and 'regular' school lessons. The sudden death of Mary Russell in 1847 at the age of 36 was a sore blow to the family, whose unity was further disrupted during the Californian gold rushes when the father, infected by the 'yellow fever' like so many Aucklanders, departed for the diggings with two of his sons. Thomas Russell junior, now 20, and mature beyond his years, was left behind in Auckland to be custodian of the remaining family. Young Thomas Russell was tall, dark, energetic, intelligent and masterful. He was also extraordinarily ambitious, and even as a youth showed the resourcefulness to realise those ambitions. The story was later told how, when he heard at the height of the Californian gold rushes that there was a dearth of vegetables at the diggings, he bought up all the onions he could obtain in Auckland, and sent them to San Francisco where they realised 'enormously high prices'. Russell took up law and his own law firm soon prospered, helped by his connection with the Wesleyan church, in whose affairs he had immersed himself from his youth up. The 'modest piety' he showed as a Sunday school teacher and lay preacher won him the esteem of church leaders, especially the Reverend Walter Lawry, general superintendent of the Wesleyan mission in New Zealand. Russell became Lawry's protégé. Much of the legal work of the Wesleyan missions was put his way. It was later reported that portions of the church's accumulated funds were entrusted to Russell; these he 'managed with such prudence and care, he soon amassed a considerable sum of money'. It is also known that Lawry diverted much of the private business of Auckland Wesleyans towards him. The relationship was further strengthened when on 18 July 1854 at Auckland Russell married

Lawry's niece Emeline Vercoe. Lawry officiated at the ceremony. As a lawyer, Thomas Russell's forte 'was more in conveyancing and in consultation': he was 'too speculative, enterprising, and energetic for the sedentary life of a barrister'. He was a businessman first, and a lawyer second. While still in his 20s he became an acknowledged member of the settlement's commercial élite, and an active supporter of the Progress Party which in the 1850s represented the interests of Auckland's business community. Largely through his initiative the New Zealand Insurance Company was formed in 1859. In the following decade he was behind the promotion of a number of financial institutions and gold mining companies. In 1861 Russell was taken into partnership on a basis of full equality by Frederick Whitaker, his senior by 18 years and an outstanding lawyer, who was already established as a leading politician. Within two years the firm of Whitaker and Russell was reputed to be the richest practice in the colony. Russell more than any man was the founder of the Bank of New Zealand in 1861; of that there is no question. What is less certain is his motive in promoting this bank. A story told by his enemy Falconer Larkworthy is that the manager of the Bank of New South Wales in Auckland, having doubts about Russell's credit, 'shillyshallied' about renewing his account, thereby inducing Russell to establish his own bank. There is independent evidence that Russell was at that time entirely solvent: in 'good practice and in good circumstances'. Nevertheless in subsequent years Russell used his influence within the bank to get generous if not improper advances, in order to build up a substantial private fortune. In 1861 Russell also began a career in colonial politics which, though brief, was brilliant. Within a year of his election as MHR for Auckland City East he was appointed minister without portfolio in the Domett administration, and on the outbreak of war in Waikato in July 1863 was made minister of defence as well. After the fall of the Fox–Whitaker administration, and the shift of the capital to Wellington in 1865, Russell withdrew from formal politics. Russell was strong-willed, yet persuasive and plausible. Those who knew him were rarely neutral: they either admired or feared him. He had an unenviable capacity to arouse suspicion. Kindly and loyal to those who uncritically supported him, he could be vindictive towards those who did not. He never lacked enemies.

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One of these, Cyrus Haley, an American, made a spectacular attempt on Russell's life. In January 1872, demented by losses in gold mining companies which he attributed (quite unjustly it seems) to the boardroom machinations of Russell, Haley made a midnight raid on the homestead of The Pah, Russell's fine suburban farm near Onehunga. Shouting 'Thomas Russell, I want your blood', Haley moved around the house firing shots into each of the bedrooms. He did not harm Russell, who by coincidence had had to stay overnight in town, nor did he injure Emeline Russell or their seven children. At a much publicised trial in Auckland, Haley was convicted of attempted murder and gaoled for life. In 1874 Russell, now a man of considerable means, although not quite the millionaire that gossip made him out to be, migrated with his family to England, where he could live in style and raise his children as gentlefolk. At the time of departure he was plagued by stomach ulcers. But he did not intend to be a retired, expatriate invalid. Instead he set about maintaining and expanding his colonial investments, which he planned to supervise from abroad. He soon became the most influential figure in the colony's mortgage banking affairs in the City of London. Long before he was 40 Russell was undisputed leader of Auckland's business community. Two developments made him so. First, Russell had prevailed on the other directors on the Bank of New Zealand and its 'barnacle' – for so banking competitors called the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Company Limited – to allow him to dominate their boards, and the boards of a number of interlocked commercial companies in Auckland. Second, lesser businessmen tended to defer to him because of his wealth. He had purchased gold mining claims and ore-crushing batteries on the Thames field, and shares in many of the companies working there. The failure in 1878 of the City of Glasgow Bank, some of whose difficulties were attributed to its rash advances on landed securities in Australasia, led to a panic withholding of funds by British capitalists who had been depositing in, or taking up the debentures of, the colony's financial institutions. In a desperate attempt to retrieve his position Russell made an emergency visit to Auckland in April 1887. He admitted to an executive committee of the BNZ board that he and Williamson were in dire straits. Although he was unable to continue his land speculations or his association with the colony's financial institutions, Russell partially restored his fortunes before he died. The Waihi Goldmining Company, which he floated on the

London market in 1887, became, after the installation of a cyanide plant at the mine, a spectacularly successful venture. By 1897 the mine was yielding the now deaf entrepreneur 'a happy income'. His finances were sufficiently restored by that time to enable him to begin investing profitably in the Australian cement industry, and to buy Normanswood, 'a nice place in the country near Farnham, Surrey.' There he died on 2 September 1904. His estate was valued at £160,778.

: Avondale-Waterview Historical Society
Next meeting June 2 from 2.30pm at the St Ninian’s Church Hall, St Georges Rd, Avondale. Guest speaker: Rene Bester, Auckland Council heritage researcher on Council heritage policies. For more information, phone Lisa on 828 8494

Our meetings are held every two months, the first Sunday of the month at 2pm. The schedule, subject to change, is.... Sun 5 August Reg Stewart, Committee Clerk with the Mt Roskill Borough Council from 19751978, will show a short film on the opening of the Mt Roskill Library. This has been converted to DVD – a must see. Reg will also give a short talk about the Mt Roskill Borough Council era, and show some photos. After the talk we’ll have a mini AGM to discuss confirmation / re-allocation of tasks in the Society. October - Auckland Council Heritage Week Sat 29 Sept – Sun 14 Oct.

President, Garth Houltham, Minutes Secretary, Margaret Ting,nz Newsletter Editor: Joanne Graves, Secretary/Treasurer: Peter McConnell. Temporary Vice-President: Emi Steedman. Committee: John Adam, Lisa Truttman Anneli Torrance, Basil Pinhey.

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